Canoeing, kayaking, river rafting, or heading out on a lake in a motorboat are popular summer activities for students. Good planning and a high regard for safety will help make the experience everything your youth ministry intends it to be.
Knowledge of the waterway (whether it is a pond, lake, river, ocean, etc.) is important. Everything from dams, rocks, and debris to currents and sandbars can pose a threat if you are not aware of them.
Other environmental factors can also affect your trip and can change by the day, hour, and even minute. Be sure you’re ready to identify and react to hazards like undertows, riptides, and animals native to the waterway.
In addition to environmental surroundings, be aware of other boats and swimmers in the area.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, “Operator inattention, careless/reckless operation, passenger/skier behavior, excessive speed, and alcohol use rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.”
As a trip leader, use common sense and obey all local waterway rules such as speed limits, hours of operation, and areas to avoid. Model this behavior and ensure all participants do, too.
Some locations require licenses for motorized boats. If you plan to use a motorized boat, make sure you’re qualified to operate it. Taking a boating safety course can help you prevent injuries and prepare yourself to respond to an emergency.
Everyone on a boat should use a Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times. Even experienced swimmers and boaters need to wear a life jacket whenever they’re on a boat. In some areas, it’s the law.
If your group is planning to go tubing or skiing, be sure to obey all rules regarding speed, and avoid making sharp turns. Ensure all equipment is secure and in good condition, and that all participants wear a life jacket. In addition to the driver, there should be another adult who acts as a “spotter” to keep watch over the tuber or skier at all times.
Paddles are important to have on board all boats, even motorized ones. If the boat malfunctions or loses power, paddles are the best way to control the vessel.
Be sure to have a supply of whistles and flares to get the attention of other boats in case of an emergency. Cell phones don’t always work on the water, so if an emergency arises, whistles and flares are the best way to signal for help.
Having a first-aid kit on board in case of an accident is crucial because the shore may be far away or difficult to reach.
Pack extra clothing, food, water, and sunscreen in waterproof bags or containers. If the boat is stranded, these items will help keep the group comfortable until they can return to shore.
If you’re looking for additional information about boating safety, check these websites:
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